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Want This New Invention? 3D Printed Crab Shells

Hermit crabs are perhaps one of the most enigmatic and unusual animals in the underwater universe. Though a crustacean, it possesses no shell of its own, but takes over discarded shells of gastropods (like snails and bivalves). When such shells are in short supply the crabs will adopt other items it finds along the sea bed, including trash. Japanese artist Aki Inomata has created fantastic 3D shells specifically for hermit crabs.

3D Printed Shell for Hermit Crabs (Image via Aki Inomata)3D Printed Shell for Hermit Crabs (Image via Aki Inomata)

Many animals have benefited in the past from 3D printed prosthetics. Inomata herself has also worked on turtle shells. Her first attempts were fruitless as she had assumed that the crabs could fit into any shape since some hermit crabs fit into the tops of mineral water bottles. This led her to take a closer look at the shells the creatures prefer and to make some serious measurements. 

3D Printed Shell for Hermit Crabs (Image via Aki Inomata)3D Printed Shell for Hermit Crabs (Image via Aki Inomata)

Inomata made use of CT scanning to capture detailed, three-dimensional renderings of an empty seashell that one of her pet hermit crabs had abandoned. Based on the measurements of the interior of the shell Inomata prototyped and produced several types of habitable shelters. Then she gave those shelters to her hermit crabs and watched as they adopted the clear plastic shells she had created for them.

3D Printed Shell for Hermit Crabs (Image via Aki Inomata)3D Printed Shell for Hermit Crabs (Image via Aki Inomata)

For the artful design part of the shells she started with a traditional Tokyo house-style and a French apartment building. From there she moved on to use the iconic skylines and buildings from around the world, including New York, Thailand, Greece, and the Netherlands.

3D Printed Shell for Hermit Crabs (Image via Aki Inomata)3D Printed Shell for Hermit Crabs (Image via Aki Inomata)

"In Japanese, Hermit crabs are called "Yadokari", which literally means somebody living in a temporary dwelling," Inomata explains on her website. The entire project is a commentary of sorts on the increasing mobility of the world population. To her, hermit crabs changing shells as they grow is a metaphor for people moving to new situations and cultures around the world.

3D Printed Shell for Hermit Crabs (Image via Aki Inomata)3D Printed Shell for Hermit Crabs (Image via Aki Inomata)

Inomata points out that while the actual crab remains the same, the exterior changes entirely once they molt an old shell and take on a new one. It is as though the little crustaceans are constantly walking around looking at one another saying "Who are you?"

3D Printed Shell for Hermit Crabs (Image via Aki Inomata)3D Printed Shell for Hermit Crabs (Image via Aki Inomata)

The artist has no plans to mass produce her creations, but anyone willing to "shell" out the serious coin needed to purchase artwork can get a limited edition, 3-D printed shell at the Ai Kowada Gallery in Tokyo, while they last. It would truly make a novel and lasting gift for your favorite homeless crustacean if you can manage to get one.

Sources: Wired, Aki Inomata